memories of the future

The Quebracho Colorado tree grows mainly in the Chaco. Quebracho, which comes from the Spanish expression “quiebra hacha” means…

The Quebracho Colorado tree grows mainly in the Chaco.

Quebracho, which comes from the Spanish expression “quiebra hacha” means ‘axe-breaker’ because of the wood’s exceptional hardness.

The economic development of this low-lying region of Argentina relied on the unique properties of the heartwood of this tree.

The Quebracho produces tannins. The discovery of this naturally derived chemical and its use in tanning the abundant supply of leather from a cattle-producing Argentina, sparked a mini-boom in the late 1800s.

The dense forest along the Parana River proved to be a powerful magnet. When the rush began the original peoples of the land, the Guaraní, Toba and Wichí, were pushed aside.

Two years after the Dirty War — the brutal phase of military rule in Argentina from 1976 to 1984 — ended, I visited the town of La Leonesa.

Once it had been an important centre for quebracho processing.

The town had fallen on hard times with the decline of the leather industry and the use of artificial tanning agents.

With a couple of hours to pass before continuing on my journey visiting Canadian sponsored Development and Peace projects, I took a casual walk around town.

My camera provoked the interest of the local military garrison.

A soldier corralled me and told me that his commanding officer wanted a word with me.

A young lieutenant questioned me for a few minutes about my purpose in the community.

Assured that I was no security threat I could turn the tables on him.

Did he have to be reminded that with the newly restored democracy in Argentina the military could no longer act with impunity?

He took my lecture well.

An anniversary this coming week recalls Argentine military’s gross violation of basic human rights.

The term ‘desaparecido,’ ‘disappeared,’ during the decade of dictatorship became part of the daily vocabulary of Argentineans.

Two religious women from France, Alicia Domont and Leonie Duquet, worked with the poor, the dispossessed.

That work would see both of them ‘disappeared’ 30 years ago on December 8, 1977.

“The fear that reigns in the year since the coup d’etat, since the unleashing of violence, this is the fear that since March 1976, has silenced the political parties and labour unions, this has seized the church as well,” noted Sister Alicia in an interview just before her death.

She stated that some clergy had chosen to support the military and others “are scared, and the fear is not easy to control.”

Last month the first Roman Catholic priest charged for crimes committed under Argentina’s past military government, Christian von Wernich, was sentenced to life in prison.

According to an al-Jazerra news release he was convicted of involvement in 31 torture, 42 kidnapping and seven murder cases during the 1976-1983 Dirty War.

After the verdict was announced, the Catholic Church in Argentina released a statement saying that “it was stricken with pain at seeing a priest participating in very serious crimes.

“If any member of the church … by recommendation or complicity, endorsed the violent repression, he did so under his own responsibility, straying from and sinning gravely against God, humanity and his own conscience,” said Jorge Bergoglio, Buenos Aires archbishop.

This coming Monday is Human Rights Day. We must remember that the defence of basic human rights is our responsibility at all times.

To let fear or indifference silence us places future generations’ rights in jeopardy. Will our descendants remember us as promoters of human rights?

The Friends of the Whitehorse Public Library are raffling off a 100-year-old first, illustrated edition of Robert Service’s Songs of a Sourdough.

Proceeds of the raffle will help support children’s programming at the library and senior’s outreach efforts. Tickets are available at the Whitehorse Public Library, Well-Read Books, Alpine Bakery and Mac’s Fireweed Bookstore.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.